ISSUE 3 May 19, 2005
NITROGEN SUPPLY AND THE FUTURE OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN
Although the rain during the week of May 15 has delayed planting, it was a relief for some retail fertilizer outlets in the northern part of the state that have been having problems providing their farmers with urea and anhydrous ammonia. The previous week, some outlets had effectively shut down distribution for lack of product. The reason for this is because of the change in the supply chain caused by shutdown of many fertilizer manufacturers in this country and also a major breakdown in the state’s only anhydrous manufacturer at Beulah the first week of April. The Great Plains Gasification plant at Beulah was cranking up to supply about 1,000 tons of ammonia per day the first week of April when a turbine blew. Repairs are not expected to be completed until after the spring ammonia application season. This plant supplied about 15% of the ammonia directly for the state annually.
Storage at any retail facility is very small. The big 30,000 gallon anhydrous storage tanks hold enough ammonia for only 20-30 nurse tanks at any one time, and retailers rely heavily on in-season trucking from one of the two state’s large refrigerated storage facilities at Velva and Leal, as well as Barnesville, MN and Brandon, MB to make the difference. When the whole state and the surrounding area are all going at once, the logistics are always tight. Then, when a major supplier has big problems, like this year, the logistics become even more desperate.
In addition, since this country doesn’t have the capacity to make large amounts of in-season ammonia as it did in the past due to high gas input costs and cheap foreign competition, the ability to resupply in season with fresh material is not possible. This means that in the future, suppliers will need to build additional off-season storage if they are to supply the region with timely fertilizer supplies. It appears that the rainy weather lately has provided enough time that retailers in the north will be adequately resupplied by the time it dries out, but this should be a wake-up call to suppliers that storage in this region presently is not able to handle extended dry spring planting seasons.
KNOWING, GUESSING AND SOIL TESTING
Although soil test numbers were up this year, there were still a large segment of acres where hopeful guesses were used to formulate N recommendations. One of the places where N deficiency has already been identified is in last year’s prevented planting acres in the north part of the state. It was assumed that the fields would act like fallow and provide sufficient N for this year’s crop and no soil testing was conducted on a field. However, the winter wheat grown in the field is very N deficient and is already jointing. Nitrogen applied to this field now will do little to enhance grain yield, although it will probably increase protein. Remember that the reason that these acres were prevented planting last year was due to excess water, which contributes to nitrate leaching from the root zone and also losses from denitrification especially in the east. The year was also very cold and we experienced lower proteins in wheat due to lower than normal organic matter mineralization rates. Finally, although AVERAGE fallow nitrate tests are high, there is a RANGE of values in every year from low to high. Knowing is better than guessing. This was a lesson in why soil testing, even though we might think levels are low or high, is still needed to prevent serious mistakes.
NDSU Extension Soil Specialist